All I wanted was to be free. Not a tree. The technical term for my illness was epidermodysplasia verruciformis, better known as tree man syndrome. I grew up in the hamlet of Wickenby. My father worked at the Royal Air Force station where he designed light aircraft. My grandfather flew in the RAF. My great-great-grandfather, Ernest, was a carpenter. It was reported that Ernest Wood died due to complications associated with turning into a tree man. Through my genealogical research, I established that my rare and recessive disorder had skipped two generations.
The warts first appeared on my feet, then on the backs of my hands — scaly, reddish-brown, like autumn leaves. During my teens, I developed flat warts on my face, eruptions of my neck, chest, and papillomatous lesions on my penis. The appearance of the disease made my skin look like bark, sending me somewhat barking mad. By the age of seventeen, I was covered in a carpet of warts that weighed three kilos. The gross-looking growths were removed during several surgeries, but they returned soon after, at which point I was prescribed retinoids, interferons, treatments for an otherwise incurable disease.
I got a job at the local supermarket, working in the warehouse where I wouldn’t shock the unsuspecting shoppers. Behind the meat counter was a rather rotund woman named Willow. Why she agreed to go out with me, I’ll never know — my hands had horns for Christ’s sake. What we both wanted was a baby boy, the next addition to the Wood family tree. Frustratingly, the baby never came. You’d be forgiven for thinking this was all my fault, and that somehow my seed had been compromised by the tree trauma I earnestly endured. No, the problem was Willow, who was infertile, spelling the end of my patrilineality.
Willow wanted to adopt, but it wouldn’t have been the same. My father suggested IVF, and even offered to pay for the procedure, but I vetoed the idea of in vitro, believing nature should take its own course.
Twenty-seven years old, and I had an excess weight of over six kilos, made up entirely of excessive warts. Complications arose in the form of gastric disorders, liver, lumbar, lumber problems, and it got to the point I couldn’t physically move. Weeping, Willow dug up the soil of our fertile grounds and planted me in the garden, but not before she wrapped her bingo wings around my thickened skin and planted kisses all over my face.
I grew taller as the years passed, feeding off the sunlight, my roots drawing water, watching the love of my life grow old, and not alone, as she had miraculously birthed a baby boy. Walden ran around my tree trunk all day long, and as he got older, stronger, he would climb on my many branches.
Before Willow died of natural causes, she went down to the local planning authority and took out a tree preservation order, so I would be legally protected forever. My son became a tree surgeon. Walden would visit me once a week, then wound up moving in to the family home, with his own family, and so on and so forth, for generations to come, while I watched it all from a great-great-height.